EMMANUEL Clarke captured the hearts of many after Newsday published his story of finding love while in prison.
But now he is urging the public not to judge him by his past.
After a tipoff, Newsday has unearthed evidence that his imprisonment on remand for a crime he did not commit was far from his first brush with the law.
In fact, Clarke's previous encounters with the police go as far back as 1997.
He said nothing about it in the earlier interview, he has now explained, because he did not think it was relevant.
On May 17, Newsday published a story headlined Finding life, love behind bars. It reported how the 42-year-old met Lalitha Tambie, 54, now his common-law wife, after accidentally sending $20 to the wrong phone number while in prison.
In that story, Clarke highlighted flaws in the justice system.
He was imprisoned in 2014 for crimes he allegedly committed in Trinidad: indecent assault, kidnapping and robbery with violence.
He was identified by the alleged victim in an ID parade. But in 2017 he was able to show a magistrate that at the time the offences were committed, he was on an inter-island ferry en route to Port of Spain. The case against him was dismissed and the magistrate advised him to sue the State – which he is in the process of doing – for wrongful arrest. He is being represented by attorney Ganesh Saroop of Anand Ramlogan's chambers.
When contacted for comment on the first story, Ramlogan told Newsday he’s certain there are “many more Emmanuels” in prison who are innocent but are “languishing in horrible, oppressive, subhuman conditions.
"It is sad that it took so long for him to have his day in court to prove such a simple point and regain his freedom," he said.
The story went viral on social media and led to an outpouring of support for Clarke and Tambie, who live on Coral Point beach in Icacos.
Before moving to south Trinidad, Clarke lived in Diego Martin and told Newsday he was involved in fishing while there. He continues to fish in Icacos, in addition to picking and selling coconuts.
In that interview, Clarke did not mention any previous run-ins with the law, giving the impression that 2014 was the first time he had been charged or jailed.
When asked in that first interview why he spent two years in jail and not out on bail, he said he had applied for bail several times and had been refused. The long list of charges to his name would explain those refusals.
According to police records requested by Newsday, Clarke was charged with his first offence on August 23, 1997 when he was 19. He was charged with assault with bodily harm.
By 2017, he had accumulated 32 charges and had been in and out of prison.
The charges include four offences of rape and one charge of abduction for sexual intercourse.
There are charges of robbery, wounding, possession of firearms and ammunition, malicious damage, larceny, possession of marijuana and loitering.
Of those charges, he was convicted for larceny in 2010 and 2011, being "found on cultivated lands" in 2010, loitering in 2012 and interfering with a motor vehicle in 2013.
Some of the charges were under the alias "Kristy Clarke." Police records show he was also known as "Red Man," "Pie Boy," "Fish" and "Buss Up."
Newsday contacted Clarke by phone to ask why he had not mentioned his history of crime – which may have been the reason police were inclined to believe he was guilty in 2014.
When this was put to him on Wednesday, Clarke replied, “When you living your life a certain way and you put things behind your back, you don’t want to talk about it.
“I had a couple of cases (pending) when I was detained for that (2014) matter, and most of them finished when I was in custody.
"But the fact of the matter is," he insisted, "no matter how many cases I had before or after, that doesn’t have anything to do with that particular matter.”
He was very calm throughout the call and was not reluctant to share the information or to answer questions put to him.
He also said Tambie is aware of his criminal record.
Asked how many times he had been charged, he said there were too many to remember. In fact, he had even forgotten about a few of those that Newsday read out to him.
On official records, many of the matters still appear as "pending," but Clarke said all but three cases have been dismissed. Officials at the police Criminal Records Department said it is common for officers not to update the system after matters are dismissed, so the only way to fully confirm a case’s status is to check with each individual court.
The charges still pending against Clarke are a 2013 rape – which is now before the High Court, after being referred from the Magistrates Court – and two offences of larceny of a phone and laptop in Tobago. He said he is on $250,000 bail for the rape charge and $150,000 for the larceny matters.
He said the longest sentence he had ever served before 2014 was approximately six months.
“I have been locked up about 12 or 15 times. I didn’t really learn and experience prison to the fullest the way I experienced it then (2014-2017). It was bad, but it wouldn’t have been as bad as in 2014.”
He added, “When I came out of trade school and started doing my trade – welding. I got myself involved with, I guess, the wrong set of contractors or the wrong set of people. So I was working and doing my job, and I was being exploited by so many different people.”
He said poverty also had a part to play in the path he went down.
It was the “wrongful imprisonment” in 2014, he said, that made him decide to try to stay away from that lifestyle.
But even after his release in 2017, he was charged with larceny yet again. He told Newsday it was difficult to get a job after just coming out of prison, and returning to life in his hometown of Diego Martin tempted him to resume his way of life.
In addition to getting a job at the St Andrew's Estate in Icacos, Clarke said, removing himself from that temptation was one of the reasons he decided to move to that part of the country. Tambie, who is originally from Icacos, had arranged for him to get the job.
But even after he lost that job, he refused to move back north. He said since that incident in 2017, he has been “staying out of trouble.
“This is the longest period since I’ve been involved with the law that I could say I’ve been out of trouble and out of police’s way.”
He said some of his family members began to resent him over the years, with many believing he was guilty of the 2014 charges, given his record.
Asked how he believes his life would be now had he not been imprisoned in 2014, he said, “Maybe I might not have been here to talk to you. I might have been under the ground. The police and dem might have killed me already.”
Asked if he sees himself as a changed man, he said, “Yes, of course. Through the grace of God.”
He said his focus is now on earning enough to continue taking care of his six-year-old daughter, who lives with his father – Raymond Clarke – in Diego Martin.
Sunday Newsday contacted Raymond, who said while his son is very talented, he also believes he got involved with the “wrong people.” The 70-year-old pensioner said he tried his best to raise Emmanuel “the right way.
“I never got in any problems with the law – never. He found himself with some guys up in the valley there (Petit Valley) and that’s where the problem started.
"All this time I didn’t know this was taking place.”
He said Emmanuel had been living elsewhere in Diego Martin, so he was not always updated on what his son was doing.
Asked if he believes Emmanuel is trying to become a better person, Raymond said, “Yes, I always tell him, ‘You have a daughter here. If you don’t want to change your life, then so be it. I am not putting my hand in fire for anybody.'”
He said Clarke's daughter is his only grandchild and he would do anything he can to ensure she is well taken care of.
His son, he said, is “a good fella who just followed the wrong crowd.”